Monday, June 29, 2009

Ask Ashley - Night Walker

Dear Ashley:

I am stumped -- maybe you have some advice for me about my 4.5 year old who wakes up at night and sneaks out of his room. He knows he is not supposed to come out of his room before 7, but he sometimes gets up in the middle of the night (he woke up at 2:11 on Tuesday). He comes into the office and plays on the computer or watches TV, sometimes he has a snack. He never wakes anyone up, so we don't know that he's up until we wake up in the morning. We have tried locking his door, but that creates potty problems. I have resorted to turning off the computer and hiding the remotes, but that doesn't seem like the real solution. Having him roam the house at night makes me nervous -- he could get hurt and I'd never even know. He needs to learn to stay in his room, but how?



Hmmm, that is a predicament. My first thought was "Lock that boy in his room!" but I can see how that would be a potty access situation. Maybe if you get a chain long enough to reach the potty and tether him to his bed? Kidding!

In all seriousness, I suppose it stands to reason that even kids get insomnia sometimes. I think instead of figuring out how to stop him you must first figure out why he's doing it.

Is there a reason he might not be sleeping well at night anymore, maybe he saw something scary and is having dreams? Does he still nap during the day? Maybe try cutting out drinks two hours before bedtime to prevent potty wakings? Could this be a cry for some sort of attention or do you think he really just wants to watch TV and play computer games?

Assuming you don't think the problem is one of the above and you don't suspect any sort of health issues...

Have you asked him why he gets up in the middle of the night? If you have, I'm going to assume he responds, "I want to play on the computer and watch TV." My first try would be to explain to him that he is not allowed to do that in the middle of the night. Explain that it's important to get enough sleep and the sun goes down to tell us it's time for sleep. I always use the "so you can be big and strong" health reasoning.

If he still gets up after you've told him he's not allowed, it's time for consequences. He is old enough to understand that his behavior is against the rules. This of course must be tailored to each kid because what one thinks is punishment another might consider reward. If it's the computer he wants, don't allow him to play with it following a middle of the night rendezvous. Or put his favorite toy in "time out" for the day.

Also, I think you need to catch him in the act. I'd suggest borrowing some baby monitors from friends and putting one in his room, one in your office and maybe even on in the kitchen. This way maybe you'll hear him and be able to get him back to bed sooner. And when you do hear him, shuttle him right back to bed with no pomp and circumstance. Perhaps if he realizes the middle of the night isn't all fun and games he won't bother himself with getting out of bed anymore.

Lastly, the next time you're at the pediatrician with one of your kids I would run it by him/her. They are a whole wealth of knowledge on quirky kid behavior and might have some helpful suggestions.

Good luck with your little "night owl!"

Gotta question? Email steppedonalego[at]gmail dot com.

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